Africa

Tidjane Thiam, former chief executive of Credit Suisse, is among several prominent Africans pressing for a two-year moratorium on $115bn of sovereign African debt owned by the private sector in what, under normal circumstances, would be considered a default, the Financial Times reported. In a letter seen by the Financial Times, several senior African figures said that the private sector should join a planned moratorium on bilateral and multilateral debt to give African governments the fiscal space to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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South Africa’s central bank slashed its growth forecasts on Monday, predicting the economy could shrink by as much as 4% in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus, which has forced a national lockdown and triggered two credit ratings downgrades, Reuters reported. The bank also said growth was unlikely to exceed 1% in 2021, job losses this year could reach 370,000, and business insolvencies would likely increase by 1,600. While painting a grim outlook, it dampened expectations of the kind of radical stimulus measures Western countries have adopted to tackle it.

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As the coronavirus crisis deepens in emerging economies around the world, collapsing currencies, commodity prices, export earnings and tourism revenues threaten to shred the finances of many governments, leaving them scrambling to avoid default, the Financial Times reported. Zambia has already called in advisers to restructure its debt while Ecuador has asked for more time to make coupon payments on three dollar bonds. Few analysts believe they will be the last.

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The Covid-19 pandemic pushed Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade Argentina, Ecuador and Zambia deeper into junk territory on Friday, Bloomberg News reported. Moody’s warned of escalating default risks in the three developing nations as global coronavirus cases topped 1 million. The combination of stalled trade, low commodity prices and deteriorating growth has sent emerging-market risk premiums soaring. Bonds from Argentina, Ecuador and Zambia have tumbled amid concern the nations may follow Lebanon’s lead in defaulting.

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Zambia’s bonds have slumped after the country’s government called in advisers to help restructure its debt, as investors worry that the coronavirus crisis could trigger a wave of defaults in emerging markets, the Financial Times reported. The copper exporter was already struggling with a growing debt burden, much of it in the form of loans from China, before the pandemic caused big outflows from emerging-market debt funds and a plunge in metals prices.

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South Africa’s rand weakened to a record low, dollar bonds plunged and banking stocks dropped after the country lost its last investment-grade credit rating. Investors anticipate it may slide even deeper into junk as the spread of the coronavirus hammers the economy, Bloomberg News reported. The currency dropped as much as 2.5% to 18.09 per dollar, breaching 18 for the first time. It traded 1.1% down at 17.82 by 12:46 p.m. in Johannesburg, still the worst performance among major emerging-market currencies after the Mexican peso.

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South Africa’s banking regulator plans to give banks a break from accounting and capital rules that could release around 300 billion rand ($17 billion) for lending to help the economy cope with the fallout of the coronavirus, Bloomberg News reported. “It’s quite big, it’s quite meaningful,” said Kuben Naidoo, deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank and chief executive officer of the Prudential Authority, in an interview.

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Cracks are appearing across the emerging-market landscape like never before. As most nations brace themselves for a likely surge in coronavirus cases through April, the signals from the developing world could hardly be more worrying for investors, Bloomberg News reported. Indexes of stocks, bonds and currencies may have risen last week as countries from India and Brazil to South Africa enacted unprecedented measures to buttress their economies, but the retreat on Friday was a reminder the turmoil is far from over.

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Few emerging-market currencies have been spared as the spread of the coronavirus causes investors to dump riskier assets and the dollar to surge. But Africa has been hit harder than most -- and the signs are there’s worse to come, Bloomberg News reported. Kenya’s shilling, Angola’s kwanza and Zambia’s kwacha have all fallen to record lows this month. Ghana’s cedi and South Africa’s rand are close to that point. And while Nigeria’s already devalued the naira, most investors say it’ll have to do so again.

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The bonds of emerging-market nations are entering distressed territory at an alarming rate as the soaring dollar raises the prospect of government defaults, Bloomberg News reported. Fifteen nations with more than $100 billion of Eurobonds outstanding now have average spreads of at least 1,000 basis points over U.S. Treasuries, which many investors consider to be the threshold for debt to be classed as distressed. And that doesn’t even include Lebanon, which defaulted this month, and Argentina, which has begun restructuring talks with bondholders.

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